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More Brits are eating plant-based alternative foods

Image: bigfatcat, Soy milk soybean, Pixabay, Pixabay Licence

This paper examines trends in the consumption of plant-based alternative foods (PBAF) in the UK between 2008 and 2019. It defines PBAF as products made from plant or fungal ingredients that aim to mimic animal-based equivalents such as meat or milk. It finds that the proportion of people reporting any consumption of PBAF has nearly doubled to 13.1%.

The figure below shows trends in the proportion of people consuming various categories of PBAF.


Image: Figure 1, Alae-Carew et al. Trends in proportion of people reporting consumption of plant-based alternative foods (%); aggregate change over time.


As shown below, the contribution of PBAF to total calorie intake remained low in 2017-2019, at 0.4%, but had increased from 0.3% in 2008-2011. Beans & pulses, vegetables and (especially) nuts & seeds (not incorporated into PBAFs) also saw increases in their contribution to calorie intake over the same time period.


Image: Figure 3, Alae-Carew et al. Trends in mean daily reported consumption of selected food groups from 2008 to 2011 to 2017–2019, in grams/capita/day; aggregate change over time.


As shown below, consumption of meat and milk (measured in grams/capita/day) has fallen between 2008-2011 and 2017-2019. The paper does not provide the same graph for PBAF consumption in grams/capita/day. However, it does show how average PBAF consumption varies with the meat consumption level of consumers. People classed as “low meat consumers” ate an average of 12.7g PBAF per day, while “high meat consumers” ate only 4.1g PBAF per day. 


Image: Figure 2, Alae-Carew et al. Trends in mean daily reported consumption of selected food groups from 2008 to 2011 to 2017–2019, in grams/capita/day; aggregate change over time.


The research also breaks down consumption trends according to demographic factors. For example, women are much more likely (46%) than men to eat PBAF. The millennial age group (24-39 years) is more likely to eat PBAF than both younger and older consumers. Consumers are most likely to eat PBAFs in England, and are least likely in Northern Ireland. 



A global transformation towards sustainable food systems is crucial for delivering on climate change mitigation targets worldwide. In high- and middle-income settings, plant-based meat and dairy alternatives present potential substitutes for animal sourced foods, and a pathway to transition to more sustainable diets.

We examined plant-based alternative foods (PBAF) consumption trends in the UK by analysing repeated cross-sectional food consumption data from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey 2008–2019. Dietary data for 15,655 individuals aged 1.5 years and over were analysed to assess aggregate change in intake of PBAF and six other food groups that play a role in transformative dietary change. Characteristics associated with consumption of PBAF were explored using logistic regression, and consumption patterns in high and low meat consumers were explored by examining intake of potential animal product substitute food groups.

The proportion of individuals reporting consumption of any PBAFs increased from 6.7% in 2008–2011, to 13.1% in 2017–2019 (p < 0.01). Compared to 2008–2011 PBAF consumption rose by 115% in 2017–2019 (p < 0.01). Females were 46% more likely than males to report consumption of PBAF (p < 0.01). Millennials (age 24–39 years) were the most likely generation to report PBAF consumption (p < 0.01 compared to generation Z (age 11–23 years) and traditionalists (age 75+ years)), as were individuals of the highest income tertile (p < 0.01). Among “low meat consumers”, PBAF consumption was on average higher than “high meat consumers” (18.6 g versus 4.8 g PBAF per day, p < 0.01).

Our results support the hypothesis of a pivotal role of PBAF in the transition towards sustainable food systems in the UK, by demonstrating they are becoming increasingly popular among UK consumers. This highlights the urgent need to assess in detail the environmental and health impacts of large scale and population-wide consumption of PBAF in comparison to their animal-based equivalents.



Alae-Carew, C., Green, R., Stewart, C., Cook, B., Dangour, A.D. and Scheelbeek, P.F., 2021. The role of plant-based alternative foods in sustainable and healthy food systems: Consumption trends in the UK. Science of The Total Environment, p.151041. In Press, Corrected Proof.


Read the full paper here. See also the TABLE explainer How are food systems, diets, and health connected?


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